R4DS: Homebrew on the Nintendo DS, Not Just Piracy


R4DS (Revolution For DS) lets you load and run Nintendo DS applications from your computer. These applications, either pirated or homebrew, are loaded in via a microSD card.

The Times Online article The R4 chip is only small – but it looks like a giant pirate to Nintendo is focused solely on the pirating aspect, ignoring the rich set of homebrew uses for R4DS. It discusses the chip spreading from China to Japan via Akihabara’s electronics shops. The articles closes with an ominously-framed quote and comparison:

“We are keeping a close eye on the products and studying them. But we cannot smash all of them,” a Nintendo spokesman said. Some believe the R4 may have the same disruptive effect on Nintendo’s business model as early music file-sharing sites such as Napster had on the record industry.

Before going any further, I’d like to point out that Napster was a free download and was brain-dead simple to use and share music with. It also provided almost instant gratification for almost any music search. The R4DS, while well-designed and within the reach of Radar’s readers technically, is not available to many computer users. It requires a lot more work to load games onto it. I do not think that R4DS is going to be the Napster of Nintendo. Even if the majority of R4DS users are using it solely for pirated games, it will not make a noticeable dent in Nintendo’s revenue.

I first became aware of the R4DS at Where 2.0 2007 when Dennis Crowley showed off a prototype version of Area/Code’s Plundr on the DS Lite. Andrew Turner pointed me to online stores (no need to go to Akihabara), more hardware hacks (there’s also a motion-sensing card), and the various dev sites. I bought an R4DS this summer and it was stolen (along with a number of other items) before I got a chance to really dig into it, but using and loading applications and games from the homebrew catalog was easy enough to do (writing this is prompting me to go buy my replacement).

quake on the ds

If you’re not familiar with it, the DS Lite is a small, slick device that has become really popular with geeks. It has two screens (one a touchscreen) and Wi-Fi. It’s also seriously lacking in sanctioned applications that take advantage of its potential usefulness beyond games. In the homebrew applications directory you’ll find mapviewers, IM clients, media players, email and RSS readers, and remote controls. There are also a ton ofhomebrew games — including Quake and Sudoku.

Nintendo and the producers behind its sanctioned games and applications would do better to learn from the homebrew community rather than “smash” it whether they can or not.

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